Ever wonder why your energy level takes such a nose dive in the afternoon? Your favorite breakfast, lunch or snack foods may be to blame. Dawn Napoli, R.D., says certain foods are big energy sappers. See if your favorite foods are on the list of the biggest culprits.
“High-magnesium foods like banana, pumpkin seeds, and halibut can make you tired,” says Napoli. “This mineral is actually a muscle relaxant, so it’s great before bed but could affect your energy during the day.”
If you’re choosing carbs with a high glycemic index (like white bread and white rice) instead of those with whole grains (like whole-wheat bread and brown rice), then you’re not getting the key elements that keep you feeling strong and satiated. “High-glycemic carbs don’t have a lot of fiber, so they break down quickly, and you don’t get that steady stream of energy like you do with the whole grains,” says Napoli.
The high fat content of red meat like steaks and hamburgers could leave you feeling drowsy. “It takes a lot of energy to break these down, so all your body’s energy is going to be focused on that,” says Napoli, who suggests opting for salmon instead. “Something with omega-3s should give you a pick-me-up since omega-3 fatty acids are proven to help with brain function and focus.”
Research has shown that cherries and tart cherry juice work well as a natural sleep aid because they are high in melatonin. “Cherries will actually help regulate sleep, so it’s great as an aid but may be poor as a midday snack,” says Napoli. They’re still a great thing to nosh on, especially if you’re trying to lose weight (the pits make you slow down while you’re eating). However, you might want to save cherries for a bedtime snack.
Having high-sugar sweet treats after lunch can put you in a food coma faster than you can say “yum.” “The amount of sugar going into your body releases insulin, which frees up too much of the amino acid tryptophan in the brain, which will make you sleepy,” says Napoli. “You get that rush, and then that crash.” Skip the after-lunch pastry, and wait to indulge until a time when it won’t be a huge deal if you start dragging.
While this one seems counter-intuitive, Napoli says caffeine-rich drinks like coffee and tea might be causing your tiredness. “They give you a quick burst of alertness for maybe an hour or an hour and a half but eventually you to crash and burn when the caffeine wears off,” she says. “I tend to tell my clients to stick to 200 to 300 milligrams [of caffeine] per day, but drink it in small doses over a longer period of time—maybe until noon. It’ll keep you going until around 2 p.m. so you’re not wired by the time you get home at night.” Napoli also says the best morning energy fix is breakfast, not just java. It’s the meal that lets you literally “break the fast” you experience at nighttime, and thus it helps power you up for the day. She suggests trying to pack in nutrients with a mix of whole grains with fiber, lean protein, and some fruit. “And if you can get a dairy product in there, even better,” says Napoli. “That combination will help give you lasting energy for the day.”
*This story was initially published on WomensHealth.com.